While it may be unlikely that the Bears find parting with Lovie Smith at this current time is in their best interest, regardless of the impetus to, there's always some positives to exploring the possibilities of who would be able to replace someone, and not only be effective at managing the team, but work within the boundaries that are typical for Bears coaching.
That said, there's a few different types of head coaches you find in the NFL. You have the Coordinator, the Delegator, the Developer, and the Leader.
The Coordinators are your X & O's guys. Most Head Coaches fall into this category, because they've been promoted from position coaches, to coordinators, to head coaches. They're coaches like Mike McCarthy, Rex Ryan, Sean Payton, and Marvin Lewis. They're guys who have developed and crafted a system, they've honed their skills, they are long time coordinators, and very good at what they do. These guys succeed when they're paired with creative, talented coordinators on the other side of the ball who provide their own identity. They function best when paired with guys like Dom Capers, Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt, or Jay Gruden who may have some deficiencies in their ability to manage a team from top to bottom or lack the experience in a managerial role, but do not suffer from a lack of talent in scheming.
The Delegators are guys like Pete Carrol, Bill Belichick, and Mike Smith. Coaches who know talent, not just in the player ranks, but in the coaching ranks, who know what it takes to build a team, who delegate, build trust, and impacts a vision through bueracracy, macromanaging the right guys, in the right places, at the right time. A lot of these coaches often don't call plays directly. They prefer to set the course as the captain as opposed to putting their hand on the wheel directly. These coaches have the ability to self-scout and recognize weaknesses in their team, in their movements, because they're the outside source, they're the head of accountability, but when the structure breaks down, when absolute power corrupts absolutely, when nepotism takes over, organizations can implode quickly and in a hurry.
Developers are often former longtime college coaches, not always, but sometimes. John Fox, Greg Schiano, Mike Munchak, Mike Mularkey and Joe Philbin are great examples of guys who are brought on, and develop talent, and preach technique first and foremost. Their message is creating a solid ball club is about doing the big things right. Guys who preach fundamentals, discipline, and most of all, know their personnel. Know what their limits are, and stick within the boundary of what their personnel can and cannot do. They're obviously great for developing teams and rosters, and end up maximizing roster potential. They function best when they pick ripe talent and ride them and their natural ability for years, pairing these type of coaches with fresh rosters and excellent GM's lead to great results.
Leaders are guys like Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, Leslie Fraizer, Mike Tomlin, Dennis Allen, Lovie Smith, and Jeff Fisher. Guys who may have a strong knowledge of X's and O's but, rely more on message, personnel and on culture to impact results. But they emphasis winning with attitude, establishing what they're good at and forcing other teams to beat them. Mike Ditka's coaching tree is filled with coaches who rule with leadership and culture. These leaders get their players to buy in, play hard, and play consistently. LOAF? That's culture. Getting their players to play as more than the sum of their parts? That's culture. When the team manages it's emotions itself? That's a culture going right. When players hold each other accountable. That's culture. When their message gets old, and the team plays lax, without discipline, or effort, coaching changes are, more often than not, necessary.
Of course all coaches are going to dip into more than one category, but, no coach, not even the great hoodie, represents all of them. Lovie Smith is a great Leader and Coordinator, but not necessarily a great Developer or Delegator. Mike McCarthy may be a great Coordinator, but prefers to delegate leadership to others, Mike Tomlin may be great leader, and a good delegator, especially with experienced coaches like Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley, but he hasn't been an effective developer. Sean Payton is a great coordinator and an excellent leader in instilling a winning culture in turning around the Aint's, but struggles to manage his organization and accountability amongst his coaches in delegating effectively.
Coaches have strengths and weaknesses, and lets take a look at a few coaches of each type, and what they'd bring to the Chicago Bears. These head coaches are either available for HC positions by virtue of promotion or are currently on the outs with their current team and are likely to be fired. Who these coaches pair nicely with are also likely on their way out, are moving from the college ranks to the NFL, or may have the flexibility and contract details to make lateral moves. Obviously there's a bit of trouble with position coaches moving up to coordinators because of the ability for teams to block teams from interviewing the, but there's some guys who have significant reach in making the next steps.
Chip Kelly, HC, Oregon
Before you bring out the fact that he runs a 'gimmicky' offense at Oregon and those type of offenses never work in the NFL, a la Steve Spurrier after he left Florida, lets go over a couple of points. First, While his teams may be a spread team and rely a lot manipulating tempo which may seem gimmicky, these aren't unfamilar concepts in the NFL. The Bill Walsh 49ers were innovators in tempo at the NFL level. Peyton Manning elevated the system to an artform while in Indy. and the Spread? We see modern applications constantly in Green Bay and New Orleans. Have you seen how effective New Orleans is at running when lined up 3/4 wide? Sproles can gash and rip apart defenses with that speed. Secondly, His teams run a lot. But, philosophically, his run game is similar to how Jim Harbaugh runs his. Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments. Whether it's loading the box with linemen, with 2TE unbalanced sets, and sealing off the edges, or cutting through the middle while spread wide, executing in the run game is paramount to being effective offensively.
While, you look at Oregon and think, his offenses need to have a real dual threat QB, like Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton, I feel they can just as easily be tuned to the NFL and Jay Cutler's abilities with his athleticism to let him work man coverage with his feet as well as his arm. Obviously biggest concern would be finding less offensive offensive linemen, but I think that's a broken record.
Pairs nicely with: Monte Kiffin - DC - USC, Gene Chizik - HC - Auburn
Mike Nolan, DC, Atlanta
Mike Nolan in Atlanta is a much different Mike Nolan than the one in San Francisco. As one of the underrated defensive minds in the game, he's not just a game planner, but a tactician, someone who's working to push the boundaries of what he and those around him. In his, now hybrid, scheme, he play the positions he uses very well. When we discuss how the prototypical Tampa 2 player is of a certain quality, and most other defensive teams wouldn't value that player as highly because their role skill sets don't match what's needed for the scheme. You know, the corners who may not play man but are outstanding tacklers that you can find in the third round? Nolan's players, the ones he's elevated over his past few years of DC work in Miami and Denver have showcased these types of talent. The versatile safety, the tweener defensive end, corners who excel at blitzing and linebackers who have no great talent in one area, but strives to do all things well enough. But what really sets him apart, and where I feel he's a good fit for the Bears is his scheme of 'the big nickel', or replacing a linebacker with a safety. In our pass happy division, having speed on the field, that's good in the run game, that can match up with athletic TE's that have plagued the Bears for years, and would be a step forward in moving the Bears into defending the offenses of the future.
Dave Toub, ST, Chicago
Special team coaches have been getting a lot of publicity these last few years since John Harbaugh's transition from Philly's ST coach to Baltimore's HC. But, to us lay people, what would we expect from a Dave Toub coached Bears team? He has glowing references from all corners of the league, but most effusively from Andy Reid who said: "I think Dave Toub would be a great head coach down the road. I don't think he needs to switch anything. I think there are a lot of special teams coaches in this league that would be good head coaches."
But what would you get from a Dave Toub lead Chicago Bears? Attention to detail. He's a football coach who understands the strengths of his players, knows about consistency, and knows every single one of Chicago's players inside and out. What scheme would he implement on both sides of the ball? One that fits the personnel, of course. If you look at a coach like John Harbaugh and think that he's got a mind for football, emulating the way the Ravens are run, with a strong, scouting GM and a delegating head coach. Dave Toub would be that guy.
Jack Del Rio, DC, Denver
Jack Del Rio is the highest level of 'experienced coaches' on the list, with coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars for 8 years. While Jacksonville is, essentially, a sad scourge of football with Gene Smith as the GM (who should remind most of us of Jerry Angelo), Jack Del Rio always seemed to transcend his iffy situation. As an HC in Jacksonville he was a good evaluator of coaching even with less than stellar talent, and lead the Jags to a playoff win... once. Victim of circumstances, I say. Look at what he's done in Denver with actual talent. Von Miller praises Del Rio for how he's managed his defense. But, it's more than that. If you've listened to the guy, he's a football guy at the very core, knows the system of balances, knows personnel, and knows how to work with talent, delegate the responsibility, and create a culture of accountability. In Denver, Champ Bailey said about Del Rio, "He understands we're not robots. He has a way that he wants things done. But he'll tell you: 'You know what I want. You make it happen.'".
Pairs nicely with: Sean McDermott - DC - Carolina Panthers, Mike Mularkey - HC - Jacksonville Jaguars, Rick Dennison - OC - Houston Texans
Gus Bradley, DC, Seattle
Seattle's been highly effective defensively this year, in their multiple front 4-3 defensive scheme. He comes from the Monte Kiffin tree, like Pete Carroll (and also Lovie Smith), but has a great creative mind in turning preparation work into excellent results. He's the Anti-Lovie Smith. He's an excellent adjuster, a charismatic force, and excellent at using his pieces regardless of structure, he doesn't find pieces to fit, he finds pieces to work. He's been ahead of the curve with his defense this year, beating up on teams with an aggressive pass rush through multiple fronts, like a Hybrid 4-3 that puts his pass rushers in space. A great place for someone like Shea McClellin to develop, allow new linebackers not have to fit the tight constraints of a Tampa 2. His results in Seattle and Tampa Bay have been nothing short of effective. He's a guy who turns radical talent into scheme and finds ways of exploiting weaknesses in offenses. Remember how mediocre Tom Brady looked against Seattle earlier in the season?
If Bradley came to Chicago, he'd have great pieces already in play, with a strong, fast defensive line, a culture that is immersed in ball-hawking, and athletic players up and down the defensive side of the ball? Gravy to him.
Out of all the defensive minded HC's that could come to Chicago, his transition would be the smoothest, because of the flexibility in his scheme and his mind on adapting what he does to his personnel.
Rich Bisaccia , ST, San Diego
First thing on peoples tongue would be, who? Who's this guy? He's San Diego's Dave Toub. A jack of all trades coach, who, like Toub, has a list of excellent people lauding his work, Jon Gruden, John Harbaugh, and . A developers, developer. A coach who preaches fundamentals, winning the individual battles on the NFL level which is so vital in winning games. John Geranno from Bolt From The Blue (an SB Nation site), mentioned that, "Players love him and he immediately turned special teams around. Plus, he mentored Mike Tomlin and Leslie Frazier." Gruden noted: "He’s not an offensive coach or a defensive coach, he's kind of a wefence guy. He was my running backs coach, special teams coordinator, jack of all trades. He’s very good at personnel; he’s got a vast amount of experience. I hope he does get an opportunity to present himself. Sometimes that’s all people need is a chance to get in front of the people that are making these decisions." If Phil Emery is serious about bringing balance to Chicago, Bisaccia should definitely get a test drive.
Pairs nicely with: Raheem Morris - DBC - Washington Redskins, Bill Callahan - OC - Dallas Cowboys
Mike Zimmer, DC, Cincinnati
Slowly but surely, this Cincy defense has turned around with Mike Zimmer and Marvin Lewis, and for one year, in what feels like many, Marvin Lewis' seat is safe. So much of this is on Mike Zimmer. The straight-shooting, no-nonsense DC. Remember Vontaze Burfict of Arizona State from the draft this year? A kid with list of character concerns so long, that it could look like a copy of Les Miserables. His will, his leadership, his culture of individual responsibility, has turned the Cincy defense from a collection of players into a collective defense. An identity, a meaning, that's balanced on fundamentals and responsibility. Cincy Jungle (an SB Nation site) noted that when Miami was searching for an HC last year, that his bluntness and honesty didn't particularly sit well with Miami's front office, which they noted, "he called former Falcons coach Bobby Petrino a "gutless b--tard" for leaving the job without telling any of his assistants." If the Bears FO can stomach a voice like that, which would likely resonate with a lot of blue collar Chicago Meatballs, he'd be an excellent coach with a long history of responsibility and respect with his players.
Pairs nicely with: Rob Chudzkinski - OC - Carolina Panthers
Pete Carmichael Jr., OC, New Orleans
Sean Payton's underling, and one of the few coaches on the Saints staff not implicated in the bountygate. He's not a loud guy, more along the lines of Lovie Smith, but he's a guy who gets respect with his knowledge, a guy who turned a great offensive product in New Orleans into one of the best of all time when Sean Payton injured his leg last year. He's gotten quite a bit of play in HC vacancies last year in Miami and Oakland, including a long look, along with former interim NO Head Coach (and Offensive Line/Running Game Coordinator) Aaron Kromer, at Boston College. His players in New Orleans love him, and respect him. He turns the quiet leadership on his offenses into responsibility. But often times, at the professional level, those that talk softly and carry a big stick earn a lot of points in a locker room, and his demeanour and meticulousness are repeatable in Chicago. Not only is he an excellent play caller, but a great developer of talent as well. A coach who's well rounded applications of coaching, his details with offensive positions aren't to be underrated and he delegates well to Kromer, and for a team that's looking to add a lot of new, top talent on offense, his ability to work well with veterans and rookies alike bodes well for a future Chicago Bears team.
Pairs nicely with: Ron Rivera - HC - Carolina Panthers